Watch: Sia defends casting Maddie Ziegler as autistic teen
Australian singer Sia's directorial debut is coming under fire over its representation of autism, and for her choice to use an actress without autism in the lead role.
Music has been co-written by Sia and author Dallas Clayton and follows an ex-drug addict and dealer – played by Kate Hudson – who suddenly becomes the guardian to her non-verbal, autistic teenage half-sister, called Music.
Dancer Maddie Ziegler, who appeared in Sia's videos for the singles Chandelier and Elastic Heart, plays Music in the movie.
However, autism campaigners have now called for the film to be axed, and for Sia to cancel its release over both the decision to cast a non-autistic actor in the lead and for what they deem offensive stereotypes and thematic blunders seen in the movie's trailer.
Many have objected to the singer's use of the phrase 'special abilities' rather than 'disabilities', and also the lurid visuals in the first footage of the movie, which could likely clash with the sensory processing issues experienced by many autistic people.
A petition has now been launched online by Hannah Marshall, an autistic woman from North Carolina.
“As an autistic individual, I am asking that this film is canceled,” Marshall said.
“It is extremely offensive to myself and other autistic individuals. Sia has shown no remorse for her inaccurate and hurtful betrayal of the community. This film will not have a major impact on history. Canceling it will express that intolerance to neurodivergence is unacceptable in today’s society. Sia and her associates have additional avenues for funds; they will survive even if no money is made from this film.”
Rumblings began after the first trailer landed on YouTube last week.
One commenter said: “I just feel like having an autistic character played by someone who isn’t autistic will never be truly and accurately represented.”
Another added: “I'm on the spectrum and words can't describe how uncomfortable I feel watching a clearly neurotypical girl trying to act as one. The way she does it reminds me of when I was young and the kids on the playground would try and imitate me and mock me. It's not her fault, it just hurts.”
Many also noted that the trailer feature no captions, the 'loud and overwhelming' visuals, and the trope of those with autism as being 'magical little girls'.
The singer, who has called the movie 'a love letter to caregivers', also tussled with campaigners on Twitter last week over the objections.
When criticised over casting Ziegler, she explained that she had tried to cast a 'beautiful young girl non-verbal on the spectrum' in the lead role, but she had ultimately found the process to be 'unpleasant and stressful'.
“Casting someone at (the character’s) level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community. … I did try. It felt more compassionate to use Maddie. That was my call,” she went on.
She also said that she had advisors who are on the autism spectrum assisting her throughout the making of the movie.
At one point, amid the criticism, she tweeted: “F**kity f**k why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”
Speaking about the movie to Variety in October, Sia said: “The movie is both a love letter to caregivers and to the autism community. I have my own unique view of the community, and felt it is underrepresented and compelled to make it. If that makes me a s**t I’m a s**t, but my intentions are awesome.”
Watch: Music for Autism makes live music accessible for those with autism